Progressive London 2010

February 3rd, 2010

I was at Progressive London 2010 on Saturday.  Got there just after the start at 10am it was bustling in the main foyer.  Being a Dave Hill follower I was keen to see the man in person and  having made it to the back of a crowded and stuffy room on the 2nd floor, standing room only, he was next to speak.  He said that Boris was a milder and more gentle version of what might have been expected, less contentious and more redistributive, that he had increased free access to travel for some groups unexpectedly.

He said that Boris was difficult to get hold of to answer difficult questions, that Ken used to let the Mayor’s question time run on until everybody had had their say but Boris just cut it off when time was up.  He said that it is possible to get answers out of Boris but that you have to follow him around London to his numerous “openings” and tackle him on the spot.  He added that Boris produced a large amount of written answers to questions to such an extent that Dave was encouraging bloggers to go through it all and saying that more bloggers were needed since stories often arose from their writings.  By the time Dave had finished speaking the room was even more crowded and stuffy so I left to get some air.

Downstairs in the foyer I met one of the HandsoffQC people and had a coffee and a chat about the goings on in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Back in Invision Suite 4 with the windows open it was time for the Housing session, less crowded than the earlier Boris do but slowly filled up.  Megan Dobney kicked off, Dave Hill turned up this time as an audience member, with his familiar long grey coat and notebook in hand.  Nicky Gavron had a lot to say about the London Plan which she had worked on with Ken back in the day, but more to say about the dismantling of it going on with the Boris version called the draft London Plan which was abandoning the aims of the Labour version by taking a borough by borough approach and reducing almost to zero those targets for affordable homes in Conservative boroughs while increasing those in Labour ones.  It would seem that under Ken the London plan took a city wide approach to affordable housing.

Karen Buck was superb with a long talk about the possible loss of secure tenure of council tenants should a Conservative Government be elected and implement the plans outlined by Localis in Principles their now infamous document on Tory proposals for council housing.

She drew a parallel with the experiences of black migrants from the American South coming to Chicago in the 1940s and becoming the victims of slum landlords while suffering the indignities of being “frequent movers”, people unable to take their place in society for want of a stable home address. [The Promised Land – Nicholas Lemann]  Karen put forward the view that in the absence of secure tenure and having only an AST with two months to quit, council tenants would become a transient population, unlikely to be registered with a GP, their children changing schools, unlikely to be on the electoral register and to vote.  She pointed out that Conservative think council tenants are second class citizens.

Cllr Stephen Cowan spoke movingly of the problems faced by the council residents of Hammersmith and Fulham who face demolition of their estates should a future Conservative Government be elected and implement the plans put forward by Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh and his Tory administration in H&F.  Fortunately thanks to Stephen Cowan, Andy Slaughter and Dave Hill these issues have gained considerable publicity and have been widely publicised in the press.

Lunch was a disaster I thought, poorly organised with far too little seating, paper plates and plastic cutlery with the result that people were scattered down the main staircase, standing against walls trying to eat one handed from a collapsing paper plate, sitting on window seats and standing at bar tables in the foyer, as I did being grateful to find a horizontal surface that wasn’t the floor. I thought the situation was dreadful and sent them an email afterwards to say so.

The post lunch session in the main hall saw Harriet Harman give a desultory speech with the usual Labour platitudes to an indifferent audience, whereas Johann Hari was entertaining and Bonnie Greer stole the show with her quiet but dignified illustration of life under the far right and why we should all beware their rise.

For the afternoon session I chose Gaza one year on and was suitably horrified by the statistics and the ongoing problems but left before the end and got out for some air. In fact I didn’t go back and missed the last speeches in the main hall.

For me the highlight of the day was the Housing session and hearing Karen Buck speak. It’s reassuring to know that council housing in the capital may be under attack but is being staunchly defended and by such worthy champions.

UPDATE: In the 2010 general election Karen Buck won the Westminster North seat.

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